Thursday, August 16, 2012
John Shakespeare is an agent for Francis Walsingham – gathering intelligence, ferreting out conspiracies and investigating possible heretics. And unlike some of the Spymaster’s other agents, John has a conscience and tries to do the right thing. In a plot that weaves together the murder of an aristocratic woman, the hunt for Jesuit priests and a plot to murder Francis Drake, Martyr explores the seedier side of Elizabethan London and the lengths that men will go to for their definition of “right”.
Thwarting John at every turn is “bad guy” Topcliffe who also works for Walsingham. The two clash often and John’s complaints about Topcliffe’s methods generally fall on deaf ears as Walsingham explains that both men serve different purposes and that different situations require different methods. That is a hard truth for John. But he generally believes in the greater purpose of protecting England and the Queen from their enemies, and forces his conscience to the back burner when necessary.
Clements employs a large cast of characters and initially I had trouble keeping some of them straight, but once the story got going it was easier to remember who was who. The world of gathering intelligence is gritty and grim and full of unlikeable characters – thugs, criminals, assassins, and shadowy figures on the fringe of society so there aren’t many likeable characters here, although many of them are rather interesting and more entertaining than John.
The story moves fast and the short chapters tend to open in the middle of a scene which keeps you on your toes as does trying to remember the multiple plot threads . A few of them seemed extraneous and the story probably would have been just fine without them. The same can be said for the rather weak romantic storyline that just wasn’t very believable. Overall, an enjoyable read and one that mostly kept me guessing.
In case the FTC asks: a Secret Santa gift